By Chief David O. Dafinone
Owhere of Okpe Kingdom, Delta State
My Lord Spiritual and Temporal
Gentlemen of the Press
Fellow Brothers and Sisters
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is with gratitude to the Almighty God and a great pleasure for me to personally address you today on the problems of Niger Delta.
1. The Niger Delta region consist of sovereign and independent kingdoms and peoples, with distinct languages and customs, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one another but united by a common allegiance and loyalty to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
2. Let us admit that this generation of elders would have failed and may continue to fail if they refuse to unite. The main cause of this tremendous failure and neglect lies in their disunity. I therefore aver that unless we unite as a people, we will definitely end up as third class citizens in Nigeria's geo-political history.
3. The time has now come in Nigerian history when we should define where we are, where we want to be and how to get there. The young men and women of our region appreciate our malady and it is their view that unless we have a common front and a common leadership for the various peoples of the Niger Delta region, there will be no progress. It is their proposition that genuine and true leaders of the peoples of our region should come together under one umbrella organisation in order to speak with one voice and act in unison in all matters affecting us as a people with a common fate.
4. Let us hope that the Niger Delta Development Commission Bill when passed shall not reflect what is being speculated in the Press. If that is so, then the Bill would have created additional problems than those it was intended to resolve. Suffice it to say that we are keenly watching the final position of the Bill.
5. The Niger Delta is a region on the brink of disaster: from Eket to Chobba and from Chobba to Odi, the last named being as a result of the last military incursion into Odi as if the place is a foreign land.
Like many other acts of infamy in history, the Administration began its destruction of Odi based on an elaborate network of euphemisms.
The world has subsequently learnt, however, that in the business of restoring law and order, and of protecting lives and property, the soldiers had razed an entire community to the earth.
In protecting lives and property, Government forces had killed an estimated 200 persons, some of them burnt inside their houses by rampaging soldiers. Also in its campaign to restore law and order, the government has taken thousands of innocent women and children as prisoners of war, while a much larger number have been forced to flee to safety in the depths of the swamps and thereby turned into refugees in their own land. In the midst of this MAP (Mind Adjustment Programme) we must never lose sight of the circumstances that provoked Mr. President into his harsh action.
Following the killing of 12 Policemen by some youths near Odi Community during the first week of November 1999, Mr. President issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Bayelsa State Governor to fish out the killers or risk the imposition of a State of Emergency in his domain. That ultimatum was however ill conceived on several grounds, among which are the following:
(a) Firstly, the arresting of criminals is the sole responsibility of the Police who are not under the governor's control.
(b) Secondly, the situation in Bayelsa State was no where close to the kind of anarchy, which the constitution described as warranting a State of Emergency. It would appear from subsequent events that the Governor may have been a victim of blackmail.
(c) It is noteworthy also that while the President was itching to declare a State of Emergency, about 46 Journalists including reporters from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) visited Odi and reported that contrary to expectations of hostilities and apprehension, Odi was calm and did not portray a town anything close to anarchy (see The Guardian of 19th November 1999 page 5).
The invasion again according to the Government was intended to fish out the killers of the 12 Policemen and restore law and order. Here we must consider the democratic environment in which we are and question whether there has ever been a precedent for this kind of action in Nigeria's chequered history. Policemen have been killed by criminals and indeed by communities in various parts of the country notably in Lagos and Ogun States but soldiers have never been deplored to fish out the killers. If it had been the practice to send soldiers to level communities whenever criminal elements are suspected to be hiding, surely no house would still have remained standing in many Nigerian cities.
Even during the Yoruba - Hausa conflicts in Shagamu and Kano last July when law and order actually broke down completely in those two cities, the President never thought it necessary to deploy soldiers.
The seeming impatience with which
he has embarked on this course of action in Bayelsa State portends a dangerous
signal to the people of Niger Delta that there must be a concealed agenda
similar to those adopted by Late General Sani Abacha in the killing of
Ken Saro Wiwa. History has now revealed that the unleashing of maximum
force on any of the agitating minority oil
communities was intended to silence them for ever in the course of the exploration and exploitation of their gas and oil resources.
This brings us to the irrevocable conclusion that peace in the Niger Delta may not be unconnected with the non-repeal of:
(a) The Land Use Act 1978, and
(b) The Petroleum Act 1969 as amended.
The Niger Delta Region ends the
century battered and bereft of self confidence and in trauma but if this
is the price the minorities have to pay for the prosperity of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria from oil and gas exploration and exploitation
without the rightful owners being participators or stake-holders in the
respective ventures, then it will be an uphill task
for the Federal Republic of Nigeria to sustain this malady in the face of natural resource exploitation, unjust appropriations, environmental degradation, acute underdevelopment and social dislocation inducing and fuelling intra and inter-ethnic strife and unemployment.
I wish to take this opportunity to wish the Federal Republic of Nigeria a happy Millenium.
Thank you and God bless you all.
D. O. Dafinone